A Twitter mistake of this proportion was bound to happen. Unfortunately for Mike Wise, he had to be the one to make it.
Today on his radio show on D.C.’s 106.7 The Fan, Mike Wise announced that he will be serving a one-month suspension from the Washington Post for his actions on Twitter Monday. Wise realizes what he did was wrong, and certainly sounds a lot more genuinely contrite than Gilbert Arenas ever did. For the full story of what happened, check out SB Nation, the DC Sports Bog and Press Coverage
We should take the Wise Twitter incident as what it is: a lesson learned. Appreciate it and move on. Someone had to do it, and thankfully, Wise, as a local guy, brought it to the attention of the D.C. sports media community and then to the wider web of the world. Before moving on, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned from the whole ordeal.
1) Social media is not to be messed with as a legit platform.
Main stream media types, including columnists who relish living in a gray area, will certainly be tempted to test the merits of new media. But just because some call it the ‘Wild Wild West’ doesn’t mean they are outside of the environment. They’ve got their cowboy boots on too, but general standards should still be in their pocket. Everyone must tread carefully, from publishing your private life on Facebook to making professional claims on Twitter or other outlets.
2) The Wild West wasn’t a free-for-all, there were self-governing laws.
Twitter isn’t that much different from any other medium. For instance, since emotions and sarcasm can’t always be expressed in 140 characters, it’s probably best to make the intent of a message clear, perhaps with a #zing or a #syke hashtag. Wise didn’t get away with his hoax, he was raked over the coals, and quickly, on Twitter. He made his bed and sleeps in it as punishment. And when you think about it, it’s kinda cool to track the responses of other journalists to a mistake of one journalist.
3) The self-correcting 24-hour news cycle and learning fast.
Sure, Wise’s credible word spread quickly, duping several, but the correction and backlash spread just as fast. This isn’t a huge misprint in the morning paper on doorsteps, this is the web. And although permanent, as everything on the web is (and as Wise realized on his radio show Tuesday morning -- what you say, even on the radio, doesn’t fall into some technology abyss), a 24-hour news cycle that’s quick to publish is also quick to recognize when someone makes a doofus move.
See how quickly we learn lessons? Don’t hate the technology, hate the misuse of the technology.
4) So ... the "source" issue.
Does Pro Football Talk assume some blame for blogging a Tweet? Minimal. Reporters have been reporting on the reports of other reporters for years. It just happens much, much faster now. Does this really come as a surprise?
Think of it this way: if reporters/columnists/journalists did what Wise did all the time, there would be a lot of fecal matter hitting the fan. So don’t exactly blame PFT or any other site for being quick to relay a message.
Sure, Wise can play the "I’m just a silly ole columnist, I’ve never broken news via Twitter" card, but it’s not the means, nor the "failure of technology" (another reason/excuse given by Wise) which should be cited as a brunt of the blame. Previously, the only way to tell the difference, in nature, between what Wise Tweeted and a headline on the National Enquirer was that Wise stood with the Washington Post and the other stood with you in line as you wait to pay for your groceries ... transparency and credibility being the main differentiators. You're not that transparent when trying to stand behind the technology of Twitter instead of the standards of a media organization such as the Post.
5) "In 2010, one sentence from one writer is enough to create a cascade of news stories published without any real vetting or sourcing."
This sentence, as relayed by the DC Sports Bog, is representative of Wise’s "idea" that he’s been "interested in for months."
While "cute", the silliness of this idea is absurd. A sentence, formed of words, coming from a credible mouth (or fingers) carries the same weight, and meaning, no matter where it appears. Is it really necessarily to test the vehicle when it’s the words which make the difference? If you put milk instead of gas in a car, it’s not going to run. If you put poison out on the Twitter machine, and you are an established entity like Wise, the engine is going to sputter, smoke and attract unwanted attention. Mission accomplished if that’s what Wise wanted to do, which seems to be the case. He just probably didn't intend to achieve attention via the cost of a one-month suspension.
In the end, there are a number of better ways that Wise, perhaps, could have tested the responsiveness of one sentence thrust upon social media. Yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater wasn’t one of them. The education is fast, and all that really needs to be done by the web world is to put Wise in a head lock, rub his hair noogie-style (if he had any), and send him on his way.
Now we all are just a little more aware. Thank you Mike Wise.